Emma 09 Madness!


It hasn’t even been broadcast and interest is tremendous. Here is the latest news.

The BBC has kindly posted the behind-the-scenes video on YouTube, so those outside the UK can see it.

Also, Tim Bullamore, the publisher of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, was the only press invited to attend the cast and crew screening of the series, and kindly wrote up a short review/report for us.

Bright colours, stunning settings, vivid lighting and exquisite characterisation are the watchwords of the BBC’s new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. The first two hour-long episodes were shown – without a single break – to an invited audience at the Curzon Cinema in the West of London tonight.

Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine was the only press on the guest list, and with a seat immediately behind leading lady Romola Garai – who spoke to us afterwards – we were in an ideal spot as the lights dimmed.

Within the first 15 seconds the audience is moved from delight – as baby Emma Woodhouse appears – to the verge of tears, as her mother is poignantly nailed into a coffin. The arrival of the governess Miss Taylor (Jodi May) and the early-years departure of Frank Churchill (Rupert Evans when he returns in adulthood) and Jane Fairfax are dealt with swiftly. Before then the silhouettes based on the Edward Austen-Leigh drawings are intermingled with the opening credits.

From then on Garai steals the show, reaching a climax in her furious row with Mr Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller). Her manipulation of Harriet Smith (Louise Dylan) is only rivalled for its clever characterisation by the constant worry and anxiety of Mr Woodhouse (Michael Gambon).

Garai’s salmon-coloured clothing may not to be the taste of all purists, nor will Jane Fairfax’s (Laura Pyper) attack on the pianoforte – not to mention her choice of music – at the Coles’ party please connoisseurs. The film’s etiquette adviser, sitting next to me, was none too pleased that her advice on Georgian tables manners had not always been followed. But these are mere quibbles: even as we supped wine afterwards the producer George Ormond was contemplating a couple of changes ahead of Sunday’s nationwide broadcast of the first episode on BBC One (9pm).

Much hangs on the emotions, the sparring and the facial expressions – at which Garai is a true master. In some respects these are more pronounced and informal than many TV adaptations of historic novels, and we anticipate a range of critical reactions. As Emma contemplates her own foolishness we see her reflection in a mirror, examining her conscience. And her utter horror when, in the carriage, Mr Elton (Blake Ritson) declares his affection for her, is a fantastic piece of dramatisation.

Sandy Welch, who wrote the screenplay, has waited a dozen or more years to bring this project to fruition. That wait has been worthwhile. At times you feel that the BBC could have done with another three months to work on Emma – editing of episodes 3 and 4 is not yet finished, yet they are due to be broadcast on October 18 and 25 – but the overall effect is that this is a memorable adaptation and one that will long be treasured by Austen fans.

For the full story, including conversations with Romola Garai, the producer George Ormond and behind the scenes stories, see the November/December issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World.

12 thoughts on “Emma 09 Madness!

  1. Allison T.

    I’m not yet saying whether it is a good or a bad thing, but it was odd to me that I could not recognize a single line of dialogue in this trailer as coming from JA’s pen–that is, the writer, in the bits we heard, has entirely substituted her own words for those of Austen. I suspect, from these snippets, that it is to make Things Really Clear to the many-headed and unwashed.

    Again, not saying that this makes for a bad movie, just not a movie using the famous author’s own words.


  2. Reeba

    Thank you for your comments Tim 🙂

    Agree with Allison T about the dialogues. But perhaps we’ll be compensated with a lot of other things, I believe.

    For instance, the adjectives used make me very happy. Words like satire, humourous, bright, lively, emotional etc etc.
    Though ‘modern body language’ reminds me of Keira Knightley shouting and running up the stairs with ‘Leave me alone.’ Hope its nothing so drastic as that.

    I firmly believe that the novel Emma’s no darker than all the other novels so if like Gwenyth Paltrow’s Emma it concentrates on being lively I’ll be happy.


  3. Cinthia

    Visually, most of the brief glimpses do not seem wrong, that is to say, I like how most of the characters look like, but still I do not like JLM (and that is not also looks but voice and delivery) and also I am not convinced with Sir Michael Gambon as Mr. Woodhouse in looks at least.

    I am with Allison and Reeba, that the dialogue does not sound Jane Austen’s dialogue, it seems that it has been dumbed down as Welch had also done with the 2006 JE, which it is not a surprise since it has been one of my fears since we knew she was writing the script.

    Well, the first episode is only one day away, so let us wait for the first reports then and hopefully that we can get it through alternate channels (Reminder: spread the information in private, please) to judge first hand.


  4. Maria L.

    In the “Behind the Scenes”, that little bit that went, sort of, “Oh I think Emma and I will manage just fine by ourselves, etc…” already grated on my nerves.

    I am trying to maintain a “wait and see attitude” but I am having a bit of a struggle. My problem is that I will forgive a certain degree of tampering if I’m blown away by an actor’s portrayal. So I didn’t care that Sandy Welch mangled Mrs. Gaskell because it gave me Richard Armitage doing his “Look back at me” and The Railroad Kiss scenes and frankly, they could’ve had him reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy at that point and I would have found it just grand. Kind of the same with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, both of whom I loved, so I forgave the tampering with Bronte.

    I’m afraid this is not going to be the case for me with this Emma. I really do not like JLM, never have, and he is about as close to Knightley for me as Kermit the Frog. Michael Gambon looks a little too robust for Mr. Woodhouse and I’m going to need some convincing with him in that role, but at least I like him. And though I do like Romola Garai very much, she is also not at all my idea of Emma, at least physically; and if she’s going to ratchet up the Paltrow portrayal, which I already dislike, I’m afraid I’m not going to be very forgiving if they’re “Welchesizing” Austen’s dialogue on top of that.

    So I’m kind of looking forward to this with some very mixed feelings.


  5. Cinthia

    I understand you in part, Maria L. Except for the ending of N&S, which is what I most like from the novel and what I really know almost by heart from it, we had RA to help us to forgive the trespass a little bit. After all he has not only the looks but the voice to make us forget it, he would have been marvelous with the original words but once again, he could read me the phone book and I would be ecstatic. I could not forgive her for JE2006 because I love that book very much (for me, it rates only one or two degrees below the Austen novels). So, I am not so much keen on the Welcherized Austen dialogue.

    For example, just what this BTS clip has allowed us to hear, most of it should come apparently from chapter 8, since the scenes seem to be related to the quarrel about Robert Martin’s offer and we have:

    E clip: “It is incomprehensible that woman would refuse an offer of marriage. A man imagines a woman ready for anyone who asks her.”

    E, the novel
    “it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for any body who asks her.

    Not so bad, but definitely simplified.

    Second tibid, the only one that does not come from chapter 8, but from chapter 43, the reproach after the Box Hill incident re. Miss Bates.

    E4: “There are those some who would follow your example. And you have shown them the way”.

    E, the novel:
    “before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her.”

    Terrible dumbing down.

    Third sample, returning to the quarrel in chapter 8:

    E4: “We think so differently about it that I really think we should stop talking about it”

    E, the novel: “We think so very differently on this point, Mr. Knightley, that there can be no use in canvassing it. We shall only be making each other more angry.”

    Again, it has been terribly dumbed down.

    Fourth, the beginning of the scene where Mr. Woodhouse leaves them alone.

    Mr. Woodhouse: “Would you be all right only with Emma for company, because…”
    Mr. Knightley: “I think Emma & I can manage by ourselves for now”

    E, the novel:
    “Well, I believe, if you will excuse me, Mr. Knightley, if you will not consider me as doing a very rude thing, I shall take Emma’s advice and go out for a quarter of an hour. As the sun is out, I believe I had better take my three turns while I can. I treat you without ceremony, Mr. Knightley. We invalids think we are privileged people.”

    “My dear sir, do not make a stranger of me.”

    “I leave an excellent substitute in my daughter. Emma will be happy to entertain you. And therefore I think I will beg your excuse and take my three turns—my winter walk.”

    “You cannot do better, sir.”

    “I would ask for the pleasure of your company, Mr. Knightley, but I am a very slow walker, and my pace would be tedious to you; and, besides, you have another long walk before you, to Donwell Abbey.”

    “Thank you, sir, thank you; I am going this moment myself; and I think the sooner you go the better. I will fetch your greatcoat and open the garden door for you.”

    I know it had to be shortened, but that far?

    Last but not least, a piece entirely invented by Welch, but I suppose it is also go inserted in that quarrel scene.

    E4: “They are not dolls to be told what to do is to marry under the table at your bidding… ” (along with that “One day you will regret…” line we had already heard in the first trailer)

    It is horrible and there is nothing whatsoever remotely similar to such words in chapter 8.

    And of course, I agree with your opinion about JLM as Mr. Knigthley, besides, from what it can be heard of his lines, he lacks the voice required for the role. He is no RA, nor JN, not even MS or John Carson, all of them who have a proper voice.


  6. Mags

    @Maria L. So I didn’t care that Sandy Welch mangled Mrs. Gaskell because it gave me Richard Armitage doing his “Look back at me” and The Railroad Kiss scenes and frankly, they could’ve had him reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy at that point and I would have found it just grand.

    I hear ya. He could have been playing left field for the Fullerton Padres with Frank Churchill catching, one of the gypsy children at shortstop and Miss Morland pitching long relief and I…actually I would like that a bunch. 😉 (Yes, as a matter of fact it is almost baseball playoffs time. Thanks for asking.)

    @Cinthia I know it had to be shortened, but that far?

    I think it’s a shame it had to be shortened at all. That whole exchange is hilarious and a textbook piece of show-don’t-tell characterization (of two different characters). Authors, study it closely.

    I like Michael Gambon a lot and I look forward to his portrayal of Mr. Woodhouse, though I always picture Mr. Woodhouse as extremely thin and frail. Perhaps it can be considered extra humorous for someone so picky about his vittles to be played by an actor who is quite…robust, as Maria L. so gracefully put it.

    I do think I won’t hate this one, but I doubt it will be the definitive adaptation we’ve been hoping for.

    And now I shall retire to ponder the idea of Richard Armitage in Phillies pinstripes. Wonder if he can hit with RISP?


  7. Maria L.

    Yes, Cinthia, the line with the doll bit also irritated me quite a lot.

    And Mags, Armitage in pinstripes? Heck yeah. And if Mr. Tilney were in the line-up too, well life would be just about perfect wouldn’t it? 😉


  8. Sandra_in_the_US

    Why did they make Romola Garai speak so quickly? It’s difficult to understand and makes her seem hysterical.

    Oh and Mags? There’s some speculation that my team might be losing our left fielder to free agency this winter. So I gonna ask Theo and The Trio to scoff up your putative starter for the Fullerton Padres. ‘Cause as much as I love me some J-Bay, I’d move home to New England if RA was handling those funky bounces off the Green Monster. 😉

    p.s. Let’s watch some games together next week, yeah?


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